Quixote Winery: A Hidden Napa Valley Gem

The Quixote Winery is a hidden gem among the better known wineries of the Napa Valley. It’s located on the east side of the valley in the Stags Leap District. Having returned from Spain in June with a fascination for Antoni Gaudi’s designs, a friend suggested we check out the winery.

The whimsical architecture is like nothing else in the valley. The original winery owner, Carl Doumani, was fascinated by Don Quixote the Novel by Miguel de Cervantes. In his search for somebody that could create a winery to fit his vision he commissioned Friedensreich Hundertwasser, a Viennese artist and architect.

We visited the winery on August 27, having made a reservation the day before. Tasting is by reservation only, although you might be able to get same day reservations. We signed up for the White Label Experience that included an estate tour and a tasting of five wines paired with a plate of gourmet cheeses. With just two of us we had a rather exclusive tasting. It was a delightful experience and we left with three bottles of wine. This is a small winery. The estate vineyards cover 27 acres with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

If you are planning on visiting the Napa Valley keep in mind that there are some 400 wineries with tasting rooms, and the valley includes some 16 distinctive appellations, each with it’s own distinctive soils and climate that lend themselves to different varieties of grapes.

The Los Carneros AVA at the southern end has a cool climate moderated by marine winds from the Bay and soils dominated by a clay-hardpan. This region produces Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Thirty miles to the north the Calistoga AVA with warmer temperatures and rocky volcanic soil is better suited to thicker skinned grapes such as Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah.

If you are thinking about wine tasting check out the Napa Valley Winery Map and the Napa Valley Vintners.

Oh, and after our wine tasting we drove the short distance to Yontville where we split a Pulled Pork Sandwich at the R+D kitchen; a delight to the palate after the wine tasting. There’s no shortage of options for wine and food in the Napa Valley and the surrounding areas.

More photos here.

Olot: Gateway to the Volcanoes

Olot is a bustling town of 34,000 located in the foothills of the Pyrenees about 70 miles north of Barcelona. It is surrounded by the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa. There are over 40 ancient volcanoes and lava flows in the region which are now cloaked in thick woodland. We were in Olot as part of our Macs Adventure walking tour, arriving by foot on June 5. The town provides an excellent base for hiking and exploring the Zona Volcànica.

We spent two nights at Hotel Can Blanc, pictured above, a lovely converted Catalan farmhouse that now serves as a hotel. It’s located right next to the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica so it provides easy access to excellent hiking.

For dinner we walked the short distance to La Due Restaurant. Here we discovered Patatas de la Deu, which has to be the most amazing potato dish I’ve ever tasted, and unique to the volcanic cuisine of this region of Catalonia. We didn’t expect the food to be such a highlight of our trip, but such as it is, we gained a real appreciation for Catalan food. The website for Cuina Volcanica says “a regional cuisine based on a traditional, creative and daring recipes, which increases the restlessness and culinary curiosities of the area. ” If you’re visiting Olot, the La Due Restaurant is worth a visit for dinner.

And of course the architecture is always interesting. The architecture of Olot runs the gamut from traditional Catalan farmhouses to Modernista architecture such as Casa Gaieta (the pink house below) to modern.

And on the subject of architecture, the market, Mercat D’Olot, is worth noting. A glass jewel box full of glamorous displays of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and everything else you’d expect to find in a local market. The South side of the market has a green wall covered with lush vegetation.

We bought fruit and snacks and had coffee on the outdoor plaza. You can see more photos of Olot here.

Palau de la Música Catalana

While Barcelona is not without it’s share of architectural wonders, one that is worth a visit is the Palau de la Música Catalana, the Palace of Catalan Music. We visited the Palau on May 29, our first day in Barcelona.

Concert Hall of the Palau de la Música Catalana

We bought our tickets online well before arriving in Barcelona. Best to buy tickets ahead of time since this is a poplular tour.

This structure is basically a jewel box for musical performances. The main concert hall is surrounded by stained glass windows with a spectacular stained glass ceiling over the middle of the hall. The hall was intended to be a garden for musical performances.

Built between 1905 and 1908 by the architect Lluis Domènech i Montaner, the Palau de la Música Catalana is an example of Catalona modernist architecture.

Adjacent to the concert hall is the Lluís Millet Hall with a large balcony with columns symbolizing flowers of every kind, in a tribute to nature. I only wish that we had had time to hear a concert here.

Barcelona at Night

Av. de Gaudí and Sagrada Familia

Towards the end of our Catalonia trip we decided to return to Barcelona. I had been intrigued with the idea of photographing the Sagrada Familia at night and our previous visit did not present the opportunity. We had one discretionary night open so we booked a room at Hostemplo which was a 10 minute walk away. Before our trip I had studied the map to see if there were some obvious locations to capture a view of the whole facade. There is a park facing the Nativity Facade, Placa de Gaudi. There is another park facing the Passion Facade the Placa de la Sagrada Familia. The Nativity Facade captures the morning sun and the Passion Facade the evening sun. Both of these locations offer good views, although not entirely unobstructed. You’d need to get in the air above the trees in the park, or on top of one of the apartment buildings opposite the park for an unobstructed view. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to look for a new angle and a new perspective. I found a location on Av. de Gaudi that I thought captured the feeling of Barcelona at night.

On our previous stay in Barcelona I had the opportunity to explore La Rambla and some of the area around the Cathedral.

For night photography I put the camera on a tripod and I typically capture multiple exposure to process using an HDR program on my laptop. Blending multiple exposures gives a bit more control over the extreme contrast range you can have at night with streetlight or spotlights and dark shadows. Blending images where people are moving can be a challenge, but one of the programs I use, Photomatix, has some powerful tools for dealing this ghosting.

Costa Brava and the Walking is Easy

June 12 our day starts with a ride from Girona to Begur where we begin our next adventure, a walking tour titled Hidden Gems of the Costa Brava. While we booked this tour through Macs Adventures, Macs contracts with a local tour operator Catalan Adventures. Our driver for the trip to Begur is Steve, the owner of the tour business. It’s about an hours drive.

Once we arrive at Hotel Rosa Steve spends half an hour with us going over the tour details including reviewing the maps, walking routes, suggestions for places to eat and such. Breakfast and lodgings are included in our tour package but for lunch and dinner we’re on our own. We have two nights in Begur. It’s market day and the main square is full of vendors selling shoes, cheese, clothes, beach towels. We buy cheese since we’ll have a picnic lunch on our first day of walking. I also buy a pair of sunglasses, since that’s one thing that didn’t get packed.

We spend the afternoon walking around town exploring the history and architectural details. The Hotel Rosa is in the older part of town. Just across the street are two restaurants, Plattios and Fonda. With two nights in town we try them both. Plattios was highly recommended. The advise was to make reservations as soon as we checked in to the hotel, so shortly after arrival I called, but got no answer. This went on for several attempts and finally I went down to consult with the hotel manager who informed me that they don’t answer the phone before 6:30 pm. Most restaurants don’t open before 8 pm. The manger was happy to make reservations for us. A small place, I counted 16 seats. The food was exquisite. One of our best meals on our trip. While we didn’t come to Catalonia for the food, the food and wine experience has been one of the highlights of our trip.

By the way. After several days in Costa Brava I have to say the walking is easy compared to the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Rocky Paths

On June 9 our walk takes us to the top of a mountain, Mare de Deu del Mont where we spend the night in simple hotel that had been a monastery. The next day we hike down the other side of the mountain to Besalu.

A word about rocky paths is in order. After several days of hiking mountain trails Joann said she didn’t realize how rocky the Pyrenees are. I replied that if the Intuits have 200 words for snow, then the Catalonians must have 200 words for rocky paths. Here are some of my favorites.

Steep trail with loose rocks, ploughed by wild boars. This looks like a tilling machine had gone down the trail and turned over the dirt and rocks, making everything in the trail loose dirt and rocks.

Then there are the rocks that roll around under your feet, the steep, slick limestone slabs with a sprinkling of oak leaves and pine needles to challenge your confidence in secure footing. Fist size rocks, ankle high rocks, rock falls with knee high boulders. The list could go on.

Many of the trails we walked are little used, little maintained and  sometimes subject to erosion.

At several places on our walks we saw branches that had been cut, presumably to clear the trail for walkers, but the cut branches are usually left in the middle of the trail. Initially I would pick these up and cast them aside, and then I had the revelation that perhaps erosion control is more important than personal convenience. Perhaps the branches are left to help control erosion.

 The walk up the mountain was easier than we had expected. Even so we logged 11.2 miles  (17.5km) with close to 3000 feet of elevation gain. It was 6:30 pm when we reached to hotel, overcast and starting to rain lightly.

June 10 we start down the mountain to Besalu. Another long day, neither of us are very fast going down hill with aching knees. Joann had thoughts of taking the taxi down with our baggage, but we persevered and took our time. Near the top of the mountain we were hiking through lovely pine forests with lush grass and wildflowers. By mid-day the pine forest had given way to the oaks of the lower elevations.

At 4 pm we reached the little town of Beuda. We were hoping to buy a snack here. In this part of the world business close after the lunch hour and remain closed to 6 pm or so. Nothing is open, and there isn’t much here to begin with. We see a couple of people leaving a restaurant, so we step inside, The manager takes pitty on us, and we have coke and fruit salad.  There is also an ancient church here, Church Sant Feliu de Beuda first documented in 1004.

It’s 7:35 pm when we reach Casa Marsial, our accommodations for the night. We logged 12.7 miles (19.2 km). Even so, after dinner, I have to explore the bridge which was well lit and looked like an invitation for some nighttime photography.

No Fat Friars

June 7. Our adventures today take us to an ancient church after a long walk. The day begins with breakfast at Can Blanc and then a walk to the bus station in Olot, a 30 minute walk. Olot is a city of 34,000 people nestled in the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. We had hiked through part of the park on previous days. An interesting city with a mixture of architectural styles: stone farm houses, modernista, and a glassy and glamorous market place.

From the bus station it’s a 15 minute trip to Castellfollit de la Roca (pronounced something like Castle-fo-leet). Our terrible pronunciation led to some confusion with the bus driver, but after checking our tickets he assured us we were getting off the bus at the right location.

The town was quiet when we arrived. No tourists in sight, a few cats wandering the narrow streets, and a few local folks out and about. One of the locals greeted us and pointed out some sights. He tried to warn us about the path down the cliff to the valley below, saying it was “muy mal,” and dangerous. We thanked him and proceeded to walk down the rough steep cobbles. I was after a photo vantage point that would show the town on the cliff.

Castellfollit de la Roca

From Castellfollit de la Roca our itinerary included a taxi ride to Oix (pronounced Oich), where we checked into our lodging, ate a quick picnic lunch and embarked on an afternoon loop walk up the valley. The hike took us along a stream, through lush thickets of trees and ferns, through a cow pasture and on up the canyon. At 2:12 pm I made a note in my journa “song birds, cow bells, wind in the trees, butterflies.”

Higher up the canyon the trail became quite steep and rocky, with a metal bridge at one point that looked rather tenuous.

It was 4:30 when we reached the Santa Maria de Escales Church. The church was mentioned in a historical record of 1092. With the effort it had taken us to reach the church I declared that there were no fat friars here. The door to the church was locked, but there was a window in the door through which you could view the interior.

I took a few photos and then we were anxious to make our way back down the canyon by another route. We took our time since both of us find going downhill hard on the knees. It was close to 7:55 pm when we returned to Oix, having logged 10 miles on our afternoon walk. Between the morning walk to the bus station, walking around Castellfollit , and our afternoon walk we were feeling hot and tired. A cold beer sounded appropriate.

A cold beer at the end of the hike.